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Eat The Rich
The logic-impaired Crispin Sartwell writes on the LA Times Op-Ed page that defacing billboards should be allowed because advertising is the public expression of wealthy people and organizations. Graffiti is the public expression of people who are more or less broke. And that is exactly why advertising is authorized and graffiti is eradicated.

Um, no. Its because graffiti is a trespass on property rights. Apparently, professor Sartwell doesnt think wealthy people and organizations are entitled to property rights simply because they have money. Of course, no person, no matter how big or little their bank balance, has the right to deface the property of another. Doing so isnt freedom of speech -- its theft via vandalism -- just as it would be if I spray-painted Sartwell Is A Blithering Idiot on his garage door. Fortunately, for Sartwell, Im a property rights-respecting libertarian -- but even if I werent, Im sure hed just stand in a window and salute and wave as I sprayed.

This in no way means that a person who opposes certain advertising messages -- me, for example -- is silenced. That person is free to express her opposing opinion by earning money or by collecting it from supporters of her cause and buying her own billboard -- an idea thats always tempted me. Shes also free to come up with a low-cost creative way to get her message across, whether its picketing the billboard while wearing a message on a sandwich board or printing up a snarky, opposing message on business cards and tucking them under the windshield wipers of mammoth SUVs. The right to do so falls under First Amendment protections for free speech. In Sartwells defense, I havent read the Constitution lately, so if somebodys tacked some amendment on it granting freedom to deface other peoples property, please let me know.

By the way, a little cleverness in putting out an opposing viewpoint is the quickest route to free publicity (read: free advertising -- something commercial entities arent likely to get). My own anti-SUV campaign was chronicled in a number of newspapers -- in America and around the world -- and on radio shows across America. Total cost: $35 plus tax for business cards at Staples, and $12 a month for the voicemail number printed on the card.

UPDATE: My email to Crispin Sartwell, sent 4pm PST, is below. I eagerly await his reply!

Dear Crispin,
Assuming you stand behind what you wrote, when would be a good time for me to come over and spray paint how I feel about your op-ed on your garage door (or elsewhere on your house or apartment if you don't have a garage door)?
--Amy Alkon

Posted by aalkon at August 25, 2003 12:28 PM


Volokh sent a link and your blog was interesting.

I've always thought that the best starting place to judge who was eco-friendly and who was not was to check who was driving the speed limits. I managed to make it to nine years at a stretch without breaking the limits, so it is possible.

Anyone who drives over needs a "small penis" card -- that was a great idea, maybe they need defaced too?

Posted by: John Roberts at August 25, 2003 3:17 PM

I see billboards and advertisements as a product corporations create as a sort of visual pollution. The point to street art (graffiti, stickers, stencils, etc) is artist reclaiming that public space. For an excellent example of great street art & artists I highly encourage everyone to visit.
I prefer what they are doing and digging to repetetive corporate logos anyday. the site is damn near bottomless so keep jumping links. The FIVE TIPS interviews alone are great fun to read.

Posted by: Jeep Crew at August 25, 2003 4:12 PM

Back in the 80s someone published a book of photographs of some very clever and funny billboard graffiti. Makes me think of that Hans Haacke quote, "The Mudd Club set pursues politics with the zeal of a panty raid."

Posted by: Lena Cuisina at August 25, 2003 5:04 PM

Well, Jeep Crew, then I guess it's OK for Miss Alkon to spraypaint grafitti on your house if she thinks it's ugly, right? "Who, me, officer? Just cleaning up a little visual pollution, here." Similarly -- since Prof. Sartwell includes the Net as part of the public spaces that he thinks it's OK to vandalize -- if Miss Alkon thought the "woostercollective" website you touted was ugly, she could hack it and replace it with something she liked better, right?

I said, right?

Posted by: Dan Fox at August 25, 2003 5:23 PM

You gotta let us know if Sartwell replies.

Posted by: eric at August 25, 2003 6:30 PM

That Op-Ed piece is a good example of leftist theory gone awry. It also depends on what kind of graffitti he's referring to. There are some cool paid graffitti by the freeway near Echo Park...I like the line "blithering idiot".
One bilboard I don't stand for though: Angelyne repetitively on the Sunset strip.
Good for that letter! Shows some spunk!

Posted by: cecile at August 25, 2003 7:41 PM

I'll keep you posted. By the way, I hear he drives a Dodge Durango SUV. Hmmm, perhaps a worthy topic for garage-door haiku! I hope he wants me to come over in late afternoon, when the light for spray-painting is so much nicer.

Posted by: (Amy Alkon) at August 25, 2003 7:56 PM

I'm picqued to happen on a fellow-traveller who also reviles SUVS-- needless to say, an unsual stance for a libertarian. I skimmed through your anti-SUV website, and, although it contains throughout arguements from an enviromentalist viewpoint, I detected a sort of underlying aesthetic view as well; your arguements (or attitude?) from the latter view seemed, indeed, more powerful than from the former.

Not being sufficiently informed on the evironmental merits (or demerits) of SUVS, my own opposition to them rests solely on aesthetic grounds, itself part of a larger distaste I have for the culture (or non-culture) of the people who drive them--the people who live in a world of throw-away utiltarian architecture (subdivisions, strip malls, office parks, et alia), listen to overmanufactured pop music and shop at Eddie Bauer--the sort of present day equivelant of the 20s set that Mencken derided as having a "libido for the ugly." (I hope it is understood, however, that while these people's chosen lifestyle, including the kind of auto they drive, makes me gag, I disfavor using governmental police powers to coerce them to choose otherwise. I am a libertarian, after all.)

So, am I right to suspect that your opposition to SUVS, in spite of your clearly stated environmental views on the matter, derives more from cultural and aesthetic revulsion? And if so, does this revulsion go to the same extent as mine?

And yes, Crispin Sartwell is an ignoble jackass, as well as a pseudo-intellectual of the highest (lowest?) sort.

Posted by: B.J. Haines at August 26, 2003 12:36 AM

Crispin's arguments are lame and I totally agree with Amy on this one. While he argues that graffiti is the public expression of the indigent, that doesn't mean that the indigent have to defile or obscure the purchased advertising space of the rich. There are plenty of cheap and even free ways to get your point across without depriving someone else of their message. Amy's anti-SUV cards are just one of many economical methods. Many ISPs offer website space as a premium. Geocities is free. Public bulletin boards will allow you post your own advertising at little or no cost. I can hardly pass a telephone pole without finding someone's homemade advertisement for a yard sale, or asking if I've seen their lost dog. It's one thing to post your message in a cost effective manner if you can't afford other means. It's another to deprive someone else of their message by obscuring or defiling it.

Posted by: Patrick at August 26, 2003 12:51 AM

I share your disdain for SUVs on a design level. Only an idiot who can afford a Jag or another something sleek would opt for one of these lip-glossed moving vans.

Regarding your comments about libertarianism -- I prefer asking people to choose more wisely (perhaps via peer pressure that SUVs are uncool to drive -- one of the goals of my campaign) rather than asking legislators to legislate them away. Sadly, most people are greed-i-tarians, not libertarians, so voluntary concern for the welfare of others and that of the planet seems to have a long way to go.

Posted by: (Amy Alkon) at August 26, 2003 12:52 AM

Correction: In my posting immediately above, I wrote, having skimmed through your anti-SUV website, that it "contains throughout arguements" from an enviromentalist point of few. After going back and carefully reading your stuff, I have to concede I was wrong (and hasty): there really aren't any arguements at all, only opinionated snippets and cheap, ad-hominen name calling. But don't get me wrong: while good manners are appropriate most of the time and in regard to most people, many people--like the nutfudges who drive SUVS, and Crispin Sartwell-- deserve to have a few rhetorical dead cats thrown at them from time to time, if not regularly.

Posted by: B.J. Haines at August 26, 2003 1:01 AM

Well, all the arguments are out there and pretty well-known, so I felt no need to bore people with them. Showing the world exactly how immature I am seemed to better serve my cause.

Posted by: (Amy Alkon) at August 26, 2003 1:27 AM

The arguments against SUVs are there. Simply tucked in rather neatly into the attacks. And what's wrong with that? Many good pieces of writing are simply eloquent attacks. Look at Anne Coulter's lauded piece of shit... er, writing.

To wit: "Road-Hogging, Gas-Guzzling, Air-Fouling Vulgarian! Clearly you have an extremely small penis, or you wouldn't drive such a monstrosity. For the adequately endowed, there are hybrids or electrics. 310-798-1817."

Road hogging. Yes, SUVs do hog the road and many a small, economical sports car has been literally devoured at a stop light by an oversized SUV simply too big to allow the driver to see it.

Gas-guzzling. Duh. When your mileage in city driving tops out in single digits, you're a gas guzzler.

Air-fouling. Um, yeah... see the above. When you burn gas like your gas tank's a sieve, you can bet your emissions are going to be high.

She also offers a practical solution: hybrids or electrics. There is even a hybrid SUV or two on the market. I don't object to people using a car to equal the size of the task, but if the biggest thing you carry to in your car is a latte and a briefcase, you can make do with a bicycle or practical vehicle. Save the monstrosities for logging, furniture moving and similar big tasks. You can rent as you need without owning. That would probably save you a great deal on gas.

And let us not forget my favorite argument: "If we didn't need so much Mideast oil for these losers' mobile living rooms, Osama, Saddam and friends would probably be looking for work as goatherds. You wanna be patriotic? Shove that flag up your ass and get on the bus."

Good point. Not owning SUVs makes us less reliant on foreign oil!

So, there. There ARE good arguments against the use of SUVs on Amy's site. Amy, I could do with a stack of those cards, by the way. You'd think a state like Florida, who's highest elevations are the speed bumps in mall parking lots, wouldn't be so big on SUVs. Sadly, they're EVERYWHERE here.

Posted by: Patrick at August 26, 2003 6:18 AM

I'd much rather rid the world of "overmanufactured pop music" than SUV's. Are there any good environmental reasons to help me persuade people to rid their lives of this trash.

Posted by: Riboflavin at August 26, 2003 9:56 AM

Riboflavin -- to answer your question: Nope.

Posted by: Lena Cuisina at August 26, 2003 10:29 AM

Even libertarians should concede, the problem is POLICY. See Easterbrook's mondo SUV piece from January:

Posted by: Cridland at August 26, 2003 10:31 AM

Dear Ms. Alkon: What interested me most about your post was this:

"This in no way means that a person who opposes certain advertising messages -- me, for example -- is silenced. That person is free to express her opposing opinion by earning money or by collecting it from supporters of her cause and buying her own billboard -- an idea thats always tempted me."

Nominally, this is so. But isn't the well heeled fellow/organization in a stronger position to use the law to silence the opposing opinion? A recent example is Fox's outrageous attempt to shut up Al Franken by bawling that Franken was infringing on it's "trademark" "Fair and Balanced." To be sure, Franken snorted, went into battle, and easily routed the imbeciles at Fox. Yet such a battle cost Franken and his publisher a substantial sum. It's true the huge publicity spurred sales of Franken's book, and this revenue probably covered their costs. But how often does this happen? All too often, the opposing opinion has to face a well heeled legal department operating under the motto: "Law? What do we care for law? Can't we intimidate those slugs?" See the tobacco industry's behavior for the last century. Or the recording industry's behavior in re Napster. There is some right in both these industry's arguments. Yet the armament they bring to bear is a dreadnought's against a popgun. I don't see an answer for this, unless the opposing opinion is prepared to risk a lot more, proportionately, than the advertisers.

All this does not change the fraudulence of Dr. Sartwell's piece. He will likely ignore you, but I'd be careful of a trap like this: He replies, sure come on over. You do, and go to work with the spray can, at which point he yells for the cops, and tries to get you clapped in jail. To be sure, this would be proof positive that he is a ruthless fraud, armed with a shotgun, looking for all kinds of backs to fire at. But that won't hurt him. Not in academia, as Cornel West could tell you.

Many thanks for this post.

Best regards,
Gregory Koster

Posted by: Gregory Koster at August 27, 2003 8:23 AM

Sure, the well-heeled person has more access to pricey lawyers, but anyone is free to protest an opinion they don't agree with -- and that right doesn't include a right to have a state-funded billboard or the right to deface another's. Too bad that some have more loudly expressed opinions than others. There's this wacky idea that we all *should* be equal. Well, we aren't. Some people are richer or prettier or have big football or acting contracts. Life, as somebody once said (sort of), is just junior high school with (or without) money.

Posted by: (Amy Alkon) at August 27, 2003 9:09 AM

Dear Ms. Alkon: I hadn't heard that line about life being like junior high school, only with money. That alone will make this day worthwhile.

But aren't we doing well when we try to make life a bit less like junior high? I admit, traveling this road is likely to bring you into contact with those who, like Sartwell, are 100 proof frauds, soaked in strychnine. I don't pretend such quacks are any sort of company. Yet it is a mistake to denounce the issue just because the quacks hover around it, bawling to the waiting TV cameras.

Respectfully, I think you are not paying enough attention to this aspect. Exempli gratia, the case of Edward Felten, the Princeton professor who wanted to present a paper on his research on encryption---and were promptly threatened by that gang of thugs known as RIAA. The professor filed suit---and it was dismissed. You can read about it here:

I reiterate, corporate interests are swinging the pendulum much too far away from free debate, toward the give-'em-the-works style that law schools praise. It is just such overreachings as RIAA's against Dr. Felten that fertilize the soil for such quacks as Dr. Sartwell.

Best regards,
Gregory Koster

Posted by: Gregory Koster at August 27, 2003 9:57 AM

I actually had a business near me take out a temporary restraining order against me because I complained (twice!) that they were taking up our residential parking (instead of using their almost always empted gated parking lot). (To be fair, I did call the studio manager a bad word the second time -- eek!) I can't wait to write about this. While you hadn't heard the one about junior high school, I guess they hadn't heard the one about going up against people who buy ink by the barrel!

Posted by: (Amy Alkon) at August 27, 2003 10:20 AM

oops -- almost always "empty" parking lot. Twelve pristine spaces. Why clog them with cars, when your clients and workers can park up the neighborhood instead!?

Posted by: (Amy Alkon) at August 27, 2003 11:46 AM

Ms. Alkon,

Thanks for your post. I e-mailed a brief response, which is similar in spirit to yours, to the L. A. Times yesterday. I doubt they'll print it.

Here my letterr:

I have a hypothetical for the good professor. What if I were to direct my faithful dog Fido to defecate prodigiously on Mr. Sartwell's living room carpet? That's certainly a "free act" and a pure form of expression, isn't it? I could even argue that Fido was adding "content" to the Sartwell home, that he was questioning the false dichotomy between outside and inside, and at the same time attempting to subvert the bourgeois notions of property and propriety. I have a feeling, however, that Mr. Sartwell would not be quite as willing to indulge Fido's free speech as he is to indulge the "speech" of the graffiti "artists" whose simplistic forms of expression he attempts to romanticize. Contrary to Mr. Sartwell's grandiose claims, Ron English's "cultural jamming" and Fido's performance art are not free; they are simply forms of expression that someone else has to pay for.

Posted by: Artemis at August 27, 2003 12:34 PM

I e-mailed my challenge to Sartwell to the letters page, too. I'm blacklisted from writing for the LAT ever again (they printed my Rambler story, which won an award), but they do sometimes print my letters to the editor.

Posted by: (Amy Alkon) at August 27, 2003 1:42 PM

Why on earth are you blacklisted by the L.A. Times?

Posted by: Artemis at August 27, 2003 1:59 PM

Dear Ms. Alkon,

Your letter to Mr. Sartwell was rather cunty.

Ms. Cuisina

Posted by: Lena Cuisina at August 27, 2003 4:06 PM

Thank you, Cuisina!

As far as why I was blacklisted by the LA Times -- as far as I know, it goes like this: I wrote a story for the LA Times Magazine about playing Nancy Drew and recovering my stolen pink 1960 Rambler, no thanks to the LAPD. Readers wrote in to the Mag and said stuff like "When can we see more from this talented woman again." Well, the answer is "never!" One explanation I heard was that a bunch of PC female editors didn't like my mentioning my breasts in the story! I think it was this line, which I'm putting in from memory so it may be off a word or two: "When you're a girl, it pays to go to the police station in person, like "Hi, I have big breasts, will you help me find my car?" I was told that the female editors (and I was never told which ones, specifically) had the attitude (as spoken by one of them), "We need to give our readers a vacation from Amy Alkon." That's why the story of my ad for a man I placed in the LA Times (a display ad, complete with my picture, in the front page section) ran as a ten-part series in the New York Daily News!! after the LAT (naturally!) turned it down. They were a little peeved, I think, when I won first place for my series in that year's LA Press Club awards, in the "dailies above 100,000 circ." category...beating the LA Times! Anyway, in the years that followed, I continued to send them pitches and mailings for my syndicated column (that go out to papers across the country 2-4 times a year). Anyway, after I sent a letter asking the new features ed to consider running my column, he had one of his features sub-editors email me and tell me (and I'm quoting best as I can remember), "There's no need for you to ever send us any submissions again. We're content with the writers we have. We're not seeking new writers." (I won't get into too much of my response, but my attitude at the time was, "I read the LA Times, and you should be out crawling the streets, day and night, looking for new writers.") At this moment, I think I'm in 111 papers...just none in the city in which I live!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 27, 2003 4:24 PM

Dear Ms. Alkon --

I'm sorry, but did you say that a neighborhood business took out a temporary restraining order against you? I really cun't imagine why.


Posted by: Lena Cuisina at August 28, 2003 11:13 PM